In this question, a person asks why it's so easy to ban Nazi symbols and so hard to ban communist symbols: Why is banning communism symbols so hard to achieve as opposed to banning of Nazi symbols?

The implication being that communism and Nazism is pretty much the same.

What is the reason for this idea that communism is evil or like Nazism and fascism and aims to kill people?

Is it merely due to the propaganda during the Cold War? I find that doubtful as that was quite a while ago. So why do Americans still commonly have this opinion?

16 Answers 16

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The answers so far are not answering the question. People are saying why they believe communism is morally wrong, not why Americans believe it is evil.

The simple answer is that America has always been deeply suspicious of foreign ideas, especially those which conflict with values considered quintessentially American (WASP). Manifest Destiny is still an important influence on how Americans think about their country and the world. America is believed to be uniquely special, and foreign ideas can only dilute the country's purity.

There have been two Red Scares in American history. 1917-20, and 1947-57. As the Cold War went on fear of communism intensified, and was a primary motivation for involvement in the Vietnam War.

As he [JFK] told senator and Vietnam skeptic Mike Mansfield after the Cuban Missile Crisis, "If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Red scare on our hands." In July 1963 he is said to have told reporters at an off-the-record news conference: "We don't have a prayer of staying in Vietnam.... But I can't give up a piece of territory like that to the Communists and get the American people to reelect me."

Hostility to communism lingers because of the American character, which hasn't changed much over the last century. America's core values remain religious, and for economic and personal freedom as they understand it.

Americans today are far more religious and individualist than their peers in other developed nations. Consider this analysis by Pew Research. Also consider this data from Gallup. America's most religious states are as religious as Iran, India, Iraq, while America's least religious states are twice as religious as the least religious countries in the world, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, Japan, France.

individualism poll

role of the state poll

As a result of all this, Americans are usually hostile to atheists and collectivist ideas. Communism happens to be very atheist and very collectivist.

But this is a distinctly American psychology. Many other cultures value collective responsibility, and regard self-expression with apathy. Japan is perhaps one of the best contrasts, but it's also true to an extent in places like Germany and Scandinavia.

Communism is not even rejected outright by those who suffered under it. In 2009 Der Spiegel published an article which found half of East Germans were sympathetic to the former communist dictatorship.

Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany. "The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there," say 49 percent of those polled. Eight percent of eastern Germans flatly oppose all criticism of their former home and agree with the statement: "The GDR had, for the most part, good sides. Life there was happier and better than in reunified Germany today."

Often rejection of communism is post-rationalised ethically. Given the aforementioned, there are common references to a communist state "stealing" from the individual, but this is not a universal belief. Many cultures appreciate communal interdependence; meaning the idea that a collective "steals" from the individual is absurd, as the individual's wealth creation is dependent on the collective working together.

The other issue often brought up is the death toll produced by Communist states. Obviously this is factual, but in the Cold War it was not one sided. The truth is that both the USSR and USA were responsible for mass-murder, committed to enforce their regional influence.

Examples of anti-communist terror are rarely acknowledged. The issue cannot be that communism is evil because it results in murder. Given Suharto's purge of Indonesia in 1965 resulting in a million deaths, or the Dirty War in Argentina resulting in 30,000 "disappeared", or the Vietnam War resulting in two million civilian deaths. Clearly then anti-communism is also evil because it results in murder. If the USSR is evil because it spread communism, the USA must also be evil because it spread anti-communism.

The reason Americans reject communism is elsewhere. It is because of an emotional reaction to ideas which clash with those they have internalised. For most Americans communism is culturally incompatible.

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    I grew up in a self-called communist country, I have seen this question arise every now and then, and this is the best answer I have seen in my life about the topic. – Alam Brito Nov 21 '17 at 20:36
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    +1 This. And also: Stalin was about so much communist as Putin is Democrat. The crimes committed under the guise of one "system" are not always inherent to the system but to the people abusing it for their own agenda. – Daniel Nov 22 '17 at 8:53
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    +1 for an answer that actually tries to answer the question in an impartial way, backed up by actual data -- rather than just exhibiting the mentality that leads to the question. – xebtl Nov 22 '17 at 9:40
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    @wberry I'd suggest you read the following paragraph and the embedded links. You can't measure how good or bad a system is based solely on how it treats its own people. That logic implies people living elsewhere don't matter, and exporting murder is fine. – inappropriateCode Nov 23 '17 at 11:12
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    @wberry Really? That's what you're going with? ... because if you measure it that way, it strongly implies only American lives matter, and America hasn't done anything wrong, because it happened somewhere else, and who cares; because you didn't learn about it in school. Clearly life for many people would be better in the USA than USSR. But that doesn't mean communism is uniquely evil because it is uniquely murderous. People can't say the problem is murder, and then move the goal posts when it turns out everyone's been murderous, and pretend to have the moral high ground. Just no. – inappropriateCode Nov 25 '17 at 20:23
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Fundamental to communist ideology is the common ownership of the means of production and abolishment of social classes and social hierarchy. In practice, that means no (or very few) private property rights, and forced redistribution of wealth from those who are most able to produce to those who are less able or unwilling to do so.

Private property and the exclusive access to the fruits of one's own labor are fundamental human rights under natural law. In order for communism to be moral, it requires everyone to voluntarily cooperate with each other towards a common goal. Unfortunately, people do not work this way. They are different in their ambitions, in their capabilities, and in their values. These differences cause different outcomes, cause some to be more successful than others, and even cause differences by which success is measured in the first place. But communism requires collectivism in order to work. Communism must eliminate those variations of the individual in order to harmonize with the collective good. This is absolutely counterintuitive to everything about human nature.

In order to realize communist goals, private property and the individual's right to their own labor must be seized from them for the sake of the collective. And because this is antithetical to individual freedom, communist governments must also work to eliminate dissent. Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

In light of the authoritarian oppression of every communist regime in the history of ever, there are those who still make the argument that the idea of communism is good; it's just been "done wrong" by every communist state that has attempted it. However, this is not true. Communism is a fundamentally flawed ideology at its core. Its goals are attractive in principle, but completely unworkable in practice.

Communist governments must necessarily use coercion to achieve the social harmony they promise, depriving the individual of the right to choose their own destiny -- especially if those choices lead to better outcomes for them than for others. This is why every communist state has been a totalitarian nightmare replete with rampant and gross human rights violations. That is the inevitable destiny of any communist regime because it is utterly and completely incompatible with individual freedom and conscience.

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    Communists would argue that people already do not have full access to the result of their labor (because capitalists own the means of production and thus collect a surplus value from that labor). I also think that you make a pretty big jump from "right to their labor must be seized" (which is already a reach) to "terror" and living in fear. If you make that jump, and would agree that workers currently do not have full access to the result of their labor (which is fair to say), you could also say that people in capitalist societies must live in terror and fear (which is not generally the case). – tim Nov 15 '17 at 19:58
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    @tim People living in capitalist societies who do not own 100% of their labor (per your definition) give up the percentage to their employer so that they do not have to own the risk of investing in equipment/office space/etc to be able to perform their labor and the risk of having to actually turn the labor into something someone else is willing to buy. Additionally, everyone is free to try to own 100% of their labor by investing in it and selling it themselves. If anything, the only thing laborers have to fear is that they must sell their labor to someone in order to pay taxes. – IllusiveBrian Nov 15 '17 at 20:27
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    @IllusiveBrian Even if you calculate "risk" into the equation, there is still a surplus; it's why large companies end up with billions in revenue. I don't see how say a coal miner could bypass that by "selling it themselves"; it's not a realistic possibility. But my point was that capitalist exploitation is comparable to the "no right to their labor" argument by OP. Both have to be enforced, but saying that it has to be enforced with terror is a reach (anti-communists might argue that it needs to be in communism, and anti-capitalists might argue that the same is true for capitalism). – tim Nov 15 '17 at 21:41
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    This answer is focussing more on why communism is bad (and is an opinion piece regardless of the validity or not of said opinion). Perhaps focussing on why it is viewed in this way instead of stating said view would make this a less controversial answer. – wizzwizz4 Nov 16 '17 at 19:41
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    This answer relies on capitalism being "natural", when it is just as manufactured and a product of our current society as Feudalism was before it. Societies change, and communism is one of the proposed future replacements for our current system. It's not required to be violent anymore than our current system is. I'd much rather see an answer that went into the history of attempts at communist states at least understand what these were in reaction to and how they were perceived by the US. – The Forest And The Trees Nov 17 '17 at 10:37

TL;DR: because communism did, in fact, kill people. Between 23 million (low estimate) and 100 million (high estimate) of them killed by regimes that collectively self-branded themselves as led by "communist" parties.

The question contains two premises, both 100% false:

  1. That the only reason Communism is seen as evil is "because propaganda" and "because the people with that view are uneducated/stupid".

    Contrary to that, as the answer below shows, there's objective evidence leading people to consider Communism evil.

  2. That Communism is universally unpopular in the West, especially USA.

Let's expand on both points:


Is it merely due to the propaganda during the Cold War? I find that doubtful. That was so long ago, and the people who were subject to that propaganda are all old or dead now. So why have Americans and other westerners not smartened up by now and understood what Communism is?

It's a nice theory that is fully contradicted by the fact that among the most anti-communist segments of population are those who know best - immigrants from "communist" (well, socialist) states. People from former USSR, refugees from Castro's Cuba, Venezuelans who escaped Chavez's regime - they are all far more anti-Communist than the average Westerner. Because:

  1. They know exactly what the reality of living in a "communist" society entails.

  2. They know their history. My grandmother was almost repressed because she happened to study genetics when Lysenko was in power. Many members of my extended family were repressed during Stalin's times. She also remembers "Doctor's Plot" (and the fact that Stalin missed out on getting rid most Soviet Jews by a few weeks when he died unexpectedly). Or, for less personalized history lessons:

So yes, people who "understood what Communism is" are actually the ones most anti-Communist.


Secondly, Communism is actually pretty popular in the US/West, especially among millennials.

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    Communism != Socialism at all. Only 7% of those surveyed would prefer communism, so you passing off the 51% figure as suggesting my generation is uneducated is, quite frankly, insulting. Equally the link to your second source is labelled “millennialls...”. This title implies a majority, when the number is just 1/3rd. I’m surprised this bias is considered acceptable here. – Tim Nov 18 '17 at 3:41
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    @Tim - I'm actually far more aware of the differences between the two than most millenials... but ironically, Socialist Party of Great Britain actually conflates the two often :) e.g. [here]. As a matter of fact, I'm almost certain that according to at least Leninism, socialism is inevitably a society that becomes communist later, but can't find a cite now. – user4012 Nov 18 '17 at 3:56
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    I think it's important to differentiate between Stalin's communism and Marx's. When people discuss the benefits of communism, they are talking Marx. Stalin, however, can be compared to Hitler. The difference is, Fascism is associated to Hitler and Communism is not associated to Stalin. That's no to say Communism isn't dangerous cause we've seen that it can be very much so, but it's not built on separatism the way fascism is. Your left wing argument is just partisan. The left isn't pro communism anymore than the right is pro fascism. – userLTK Nov 18 '17 at 4:23
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    Then Capitalism also killed people. A lot. – Anixx Nov 19 '17 at 23:59
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    @userLTK - not my fault that left wing mass media refuses to cover topics like that which conflict with their views or portray things in ways contradictory to their ideology. Case in point: try to find CNN's article today covering Corrine Brown. I couldn't (using CNN's search bar, or front page, at least). – user4012 Dec 4 '17 at 17:30

Why is communism considered as evil (like fascism and nazism) in western countries?

Simple answer is them vs us. This was previously nationality, but cold-war era saw this them vs us line drawn more on economic lines as alliances spanned multiple nations. Them vs us is a 100% with or 100% against perception (no middle ground between two polar opposites) and there is a strong push to equate anything less than 100% capitalist to communism. I'll try to ignore the actuals behind why communism is evil and try to focus more on the perception of why it's remained the big evil within western society.

It should be noted that if you include deaths from sweatshops, activities outlined in 'confessions of an economic hitman', and a handful of wars...capitalism likely has quite the death toll behind it as well, but where do you draw the line between imperial ambitions and capitalism...and if we're willing to draw that line for capitalism, where does that line lay for the communists death toll? Ideal theory vs less than ideal implementation is always a factor in this discussion, usually people have to wear pretty heavy blinders to declare why our system is good and just while their system is corrupt and evil.

Much longer answer, a lot of this is generational. Younger generations are more and more embracing a 'help your neighbor' viewpoint associating capitalism with a 'Individual at the expense of everyone else' ala Martin Shkreli vs a communism 'collective looking out for the good of one another', which seems to have caused a bit of a leftist tilt in the younger generation (probably a bit to do with people get screwed over by capitalism as well and the much greener grass of communism is a dream to address that). Of course, this is entirely a dream world and has little to do with what communism actually is, yet a large number of youths in capitalist nations have somehow come to the conclusion that communism is preferable. Of course, if you actually drill down into the beliefs of these youths, you'll discover they are most likely democratic socialists however they are lumped into communism under the with us (100% capitalist) or against us (100% communist) mantra. End result is youth holding a few socialist views must be shown the communism is evil mantra to get them back into line with 'us'.

Edit from comments : Should be noted that this is in part a 'rebel' youth trend. One can rightly call communism a 'declaration of war' on capitalism (at least partially pending implement) and there are a good number of youth suffering under or seeing the injustices of capitalism and defaulting to 'communism' as the natural counter to it without fully understanding what previous communism setups truly entailed (caught up in the dram version of communism and not the reality). Also to say it, a lot of these youths disputes with capitalism are also misdirected as they pin the crimes of imperialism as crimes of capitalism.

This is greatly exacerbated in the US, which shows a weird mix of misunderstanding and political posturing...we've already got an answer claiming all socialism is communism (same people that use 'liberal' as a curseword), which makes a pretty good example for this. Very much an exercise of reductio ad absurdum in action, suggesting some social support is countered by all social support is communism and therefore evil. Much of the wealthy within the US is generally against using their money to finance social constructs (healthcare is a big one here, but it's used against a pretty wide array of social programs) and a consistent tactic to whip up support is to use the lines "this is socialism, all socialism is communism, communism is evil, therefore "insert hot topic like universal healthcare" is evil. This political posturing is a heavy reason this 'communism is evil!' argument continues in America. Edit to add: American media tends to be consumed internationally which means this argument is very often broadcast around the globe putting this 'socialism = communism = evil' viewpoint across the airways for the world to see.

But with all that said...the key reason why Communism is regarded as evil can be reduced to freedom. "communism = someone else/collective telling us what to do and how to behave" vs "capitalism is the individual choosing what to do and how to behave". People who have had their freedom denied will heavily resist what appears to be taking freedom away.

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    The catch with capitalism is that it can equally end up being someone else telling us what to do and how to behave. It's not a simple contrast in that regard. – blip Nov 15 '17 at 21:54
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    @blip - Agreed entirely, I'm tried to keep my talking points to perception and not the reality...more often than not, perceptions are reduced down to the simplest form. – Twelfth Nov 15 '17 at 22:20
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    Good point re: perception. – blip Nov 15 '17 at 22:22
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    Of course under capitalism you still have people telling you how to behave. – J Doe Nov 16 '17 at 2:07
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    Your anwser is the most neutral. Great job. – xrorox Nov 17 '17 at 10:43

Communism has committed atrocities far greater than the Holocaust.

Holodomor: up to 12 million dead

Khmer Rouge: up to 3 million dead

The Great Leap Forward: up to 55 million dead

Tanzania Experiment: no deaths, only near famine

Death, famine, and genocide are usually considered evil.

#CommunismKills

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    I don't particularly see how these reflect negatively on communism as an ideology. Rather, they are examples of failed/inefficient policies by specific authoritarian governments, and in some of the above might have even been politically motivated. If one were to ascribe these failings to any particular form of government, I would personally attribute them to the authoritarian underpinnings of the states in question, not their goals of communism. Moreover, states like the USSR weren't communist in any form (they were socialist, both in the constitution and in practice). – user41281 Nov 16 '17 at 1:21
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    user41281 The parent question asked "why it's so easy to ban Nazi symbols and so hard to ban communist symbols" I thinks it's fair to say many evils have been done under those symbols, it is strange they are seen in a positive light. The symbols represent specific implementations of Communism. I personally think communism as an ideology is destined to lead to tyranny but even if you don't think that's the case they symbols were used by some horrific tyrannies. – Dan Walmsley Nov 16 '17 at 1:26
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    @jpmc26 Their authoritarian attitude was directly related to their desire to implement their communist ideals. This is abjectly false. Though you can argue that you need a government with strong convictions in order to create a massive governmental revolution that changes the entire nation's economy; that does not mean that communism caused the authoritarianism, or that authoritarianism is a must have to be communist. And again, failure to implement is not the same as inherent impossibility. – Flater Nov 17 '17 at 10:47
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    You missed the Gulag (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gulag_Archipelago) in your list of Communist atrocities. That is one that cannot be blamed on 'inefficient policies'. It was a remarkably efficient method of destroying the hope, morality and lives of millions of people. Quite how anyone can be aware of it and not be sickened by the sight of Communist symbols is beyond me. – DrMcCleod Nov 19 '17 at 23:12
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    Er, the British Empire has a similar set of stats. It just doesn't get much publicity because English speaking people wrote the history. And they say the USA has killed 15 million civilians in acts of war since 1945. Why doesn't that get mentioned? Perhaps your answer instead of being so absolute, you can say "And these are the only stats that people are taught" – axsvl77 Nov 20 '17 at 14:15

Marx wrote about the inevitability of a paradise of post scarcity once communism is achieved, but very strongly implied that we need to climb over some well dressed corpses to get there. It seems pretty expected that the people currently wearing those clothes aren't going to want that.

Negative news reports weren't that long ago. Whether this is propaganda or not is increasingly hard to say, but:

Two of the countries Americans are most concerned about are still aligned with communism. There are still reports of humans rights violations. Some fairly brutal suppressions happened in the last 40 years, which is withing living memory (not everyone is a millennial no matter what the internet says).

I remember watching The Wall being smashed and a man stopping a tank on TV. And they will live on in the internet, forever counterrevolutionary, with commentary about why they are important. These are events that stick with some people as strongly as One Small Step, I Have A Dream, or a man burning as he falls.

Some of the non-governmental propaganda against communism is still regularly used. 1984 and Animal Farm are fairly hard to avoid in American school and Ayn Rand is surprisingly often mentioned.

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    @user4012 it's often required or suggested reading. Less so today, fortunately :) – blip Nov 15 '17 at 19:38
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    @user4012 it's in many school libraries...or at least was. I had it as part of coursework in college. My son had it as a book he could read (suggested, not required) in high school. – blip Nov 15 '17 at 20:52
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    Looked up Ayn Rand rom wikipedia: "In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral,[3] and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, and instead supported laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights". What's so controversial about disliking oppressive regimes and supporting individual rights? – Shautieh Nov 17 '17 at 2:28
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    @Shautieh - she was a radical individualist in the Locke tradition. Basically, a complete and total heresy and anathema to communitarian thinking that underlies modern progressive left. Same reason why Rand Paul (a mostly-libertarian in Republican skin) is called far right. – user4012 Nov 17 '17 at 3:30
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    Animal Farm is not anticommunist. Animal Farm decries the corruption of the USSR and other communist elites. Orwell was a socialist. – gerrit Nov 20 '17 at 14:46

Why is communism considered as evil (like fascism and nazism) in the United States?

Short Answer

The background necessary to accurately answer your question is complex in both history and culture, but perhaps one short introduction could be:

Due to a series of actions done and promoted by various agents in the USA starting roughly after 1917, following the October Revolution, and continuing to this day (although to a far lesser extent). Important concepts to understand the context behind this (not unique) point of view are Red Scare, HUAC, McCarthyism, Cold War, and Communist Control Act. Although the association of communism with external threats being widespread in popular belief the great majority of the events that motivated this perspective happened inside the US, and were started by Americans.

enter image description here

Long Answer

NOTE: The bold text in the quotes was made by me.

Let's start with some basic definitions from a well known US dictionary:

communism

1

  • a :a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
  • b :a theory advocating elimination of private property

2 (capitalized -> Communism)

  • a :a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the U.S.S.R.
  • b :a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production
  • c :a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably
  • d :communist systems collectively

It's probably a bit confusing to see this definition. The different options are antagonistic at best. And explaining "why?" is difficult.

1910s

This isn't the beginning (which spreads far out the US) but it's a good starting point:

At the war's end, following the October Revolution, American authorities saw the threat of Communist revolution in the actions of organized labor, including such disparate cases as the Seattle General Strike and the Boston Police Strike and then in the bombing campaign directed by anarchist groups at political and business leaders. Fueled by labor unrest and the anarchist bombings, and then spurred on by United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's attempt to suppress radical organizations, it was characterized by exaggerated rhetoric, illegal search and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions, and the deportation of several hundred suspected radicals and anarchists. In addition, the growing anti-immigration nativism movement among Americans viewed increasing immigration from Southern Europe and Eastern Europe as a threat to American political and social stability.

At this point in time a notion such as Organized Labor was somewhat unknown in the US (the same for most of the world). In fact the AFL (American Federation of Labor) had just had quite a few victories with intent on pursuing more. The reaction is likely one of the seeds for the modern point of view that justifies your question:

In 1919, the AFL tried to make their gains permanent and called a series of major strikes in meat, steel, and many other industries. Management counterattacked, claiming that key strikes were run by Communists intent on destroying capitalism. Nearly all the strikes ultimately failed, forcing unions back to positions similar to those around 1910.

enter image description here

It's important to understand that from an external point of view the Russian Red October Revolution was pivotal for it had meant that a popular uprising could overthrown a "modern" (at the time) government. In fact the USA has intervened in the Russia civil war by siding with the Tsar (an autocratic system like Monarchy; even though Woodrow Wilson was known for its idealist, non-interventionist, mindset).

The next few decades would be filled with more of the same, and in some instances it actually prompted decisions typically seen as socialist (see Social Security in the United States), but at the end of 1930s something important to this question happened. The HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) appeared. It was an official committee designed to:

...investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having communist ties.

1940s (after World War 2)

enter image description here

At this point, right after WW2, the Cold War starts. And gives rise to a period named McCarthyism (this is the origin of the expression so much in vogue nowadays):

The term refers to U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1947 to 1956 and characterized by heightened political repression as well as a campaign spreading fear of Communist influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.

enter image description here

A lot of bad things happened during this time. For some one could argue: with justification; for others not so much. In any case this was the point were Communism first started being a synonym for Soviet Union:

Those who sought to justify McCarthyism did so largely through their characterization of Communism, and American Communists in particular. Proponents of McCarthyism claimed that the CPUSA was so completely under Moscow's control that any American Communist was a puppet of the Soviet and Russian intelligence services. This view is supported by recent documentation from the archives of the KGB as well as post-war decodes of wartime Soviet radio traffic from the Venona Project, showing that Moscow provided financial support to the CPUSA and had significant influence on CPUSA policies. J. Edgar Hoover commented in a 1950 speech, "Communist members, body and soul, are the property of the Party." This attitude was not confined to arch-conservatives. In 1940, the American Civil Liberties Union ejected founding member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, saying that her membership in the Communist Party was enough to disqualify her as a civil libertarian.

enter image description here

I would also mention the high profile Hollywood Blacklist case:

In 1947, the committee held nine days of hearings into alleged communist propaganda and influence in the Hollywood motion picture industry. After conviction on contempt of Congress charges for refusal to answer some questions posed by committee members, "The Hollywood Ten" were blacklisted by the industry. Eventually, more than 300 artists—including directors, radio commentators, actors and particularly screenwriters—were boycotted by the studios. Some, like Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Paul Robeson and Yip Harburg, left the U.S or went underground to find work. Others wrote under pseudonyms or the names of colleagues.

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Evidently it did not help any philosophical Communists in America that others so called Communist regimes were perpetrating violent crimes towards their own and other nations. The difference became nonexistent from a cultural mindset point of view.

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Eventually in 1975 the HUAC was formally terminated and with it the majority of the anti-communist propaganda (although it continued mostly by means of culture, at this point a Communist was an Enemy for most Americans).

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1990s

This was the fall of Soviet Union. Things calmed down a lot, but to this day you'll still often see comments whose nature is consequence of a somewhat ingrained cultural trait in the American psyche. Just to give a very recent example:

It was a scene straight out of the 1950s, but the year was 2017. Travis Allen, a Republican from southern California, took to the floor of the state assembly on 8 May to denounce communism. “To allow subversives and avowed communists to now work for the state of California,” he railed, “is a direct insult to the people of California who pay for that government.”

Allen was speaking out against a move to remove language from the California code that that bars members of the Communist party from holding government jobs in the state.

Anti-communist language remains on the books in several states, and in California, at least, it’s not going anywhere. After facing backlash from Republicans, veterans and the Vietnamese American community, the bill’s sponsor, the Democratic assemblyman Rob Bonta, announced last week that he would not move forward with the bill.

So the answer to your question is not a simple one by any measure. There is plenty that is missing in this answer, but at the very least it should be enough to portrait the social and political circumstances that lead to today average opinion about communism in the US. It's important to consider that most people are not political experts and only a few will be aware of what Communism (as a philosophy) is.

Words such as Socialism and Communism are likely very badly seen due to these circumstances but related movements exist nonetheless. For example terms like Social Justice, Universal Healthcare, or Wealth redistribution are common nowadays even if any association with the left is no recommended. Take a look at a table for the issues the major (big and small) political parties in US defend.

  • @Xen2050 Just out of curiosity, which one of the answers do you consider to be an actual good answer? – armatita Nov 20 '17 at 8:54
  • Was influenced by your "There is plenty that is missing in this answer," but it's decent enough, and the question's deceptively broad anyway. I'll del the previous comment, and this one tomorrow too – Xen2050 Nov 20 '17 at 10:34
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    Informative & pictures, so +1. (Funny superman pic, it's not like the "S" on his chest ever stood for "S'America", changing it to a hammer & sickle seems odd at best) – Xen2050 Nov 20 '17 at 10:36
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    I think actually, you hit the correct answer by mistake. The answer is propaganda. Why was there so much anti-communist propaganda? Because the people who were at the top in America were the ones who stood to lose the most. Out of their fear of what they had to lose, they needed to scare the rest of the population into rejecting it. Americans fear it because that's what they've been told to do. – UKMonkey Nov 20 '17 at 18:03
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    Your brilliant answer sheds light upon the unique methods of anti-communist 'defensive' propaganda adopted over the years, which can influence public opinion in deep and unexpected ways through popular culture -- I appreciate and upvote! – English Student Dec 3 '17 at 21:57

What is the reason for this idea that communism is evil or like Nazism and fascism and aims to kill people?

Because the leaders of Communist nations (chiefly Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot) happily slaughtered millions of their own people in the name of revolution, or instituted policies that led to famine and mass death. Per Wikipedia, fully a quarter of Cambodia's population died as a result of Pol Pot's policies.

It's not so much that Communism itself is evil (a form of it was practiced on a small scale by religious communities in North America in the 19th century), but that Communist states tended to wind up as authoritarian and repressive dictatorships.

Unfortunately, I think that's kind of inevitable - any system that requires a centrally planned economy over multiple communities is going to favor a very rigid top-down form of government, which lends itself to authoritarian rule.

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    + 1 for noting the scale and nation-state considerations. – Jared Smith Nov 17 '17 at 17:44

I'm going to posit that nobody really knows the correct answer. Consider just a few of the possibilities:

Americans have been exposed to a huge amount of anti-communist propaganda, varying all the way from extremely blatant to quite subtle.

There's also quite a bit of objective evidence that at least in practice, governments that claimed to be communist simply haven't worked particularly well (and regardless of intent, most have turned into totalitarian dictatorships very quickly).

Of course, Marx was also openly hostile toward beliefs many hold near and dear, such as religion. It might be open to argument whether communism necessarily implies atheism, but quite a few people see it that way, and base their opinions on that belief.

Many have at some timer or other seen a 3 year-old in a grocery store grab some candy and yell "MINE!" at the top of their lungs when their parent tries to take it away. Looking at such a spectacle has certainly convinced some that the notion of private ownership is so innate to (at least most) humans, that a philosophy of collective ownership is directly contrary to human nature. In their minds, it's not just a situation where a good idea has been poorly implemented--rather, it runs directly contrary to human nature, so it not only hasn't worked, but can't work.

Similarly others have looked at the Marx's writing, and found what they consider fundamental defects in his ideas themselves. For example, almost regardless of what exact set of rules you decide upon, it's essentially unavoidable that some people will break those rules, so you immediately need some who can enforce the rules, and others who are required to adhere to the enforcers' decisions. They see the notion of a classless society in which all are equal is fundamentally broken as a concept. They see the basic foundations of communist thinking as illogical, inconsistent, poorly thought out, etc.

In a similar vein, some have noted that communist leaders are often selected based more upon such factors are purity and devotion to the communist ideal, rather than actual ability to lead. In short, Marx preached against religion, but many of his followers (or at least people who claim to be his followers) basically treat communism itself as a religion, and Marx as essentially a deity. This degree of self-contradiction is seen as an indication that the system itself (or at least its realization) as fundamentally flawed.

Summary

Of course, those aren't the only possible reasons. Most people probably don't base their opinions entirely upon one reason either. The reasons are sufficiently numerous and varied that a wide variety of people can find at least a few with which they're comfortable, almost regardless of age, sex, social status, religious beliefs, etc.

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    While it's hard to argue against anything you wrote (i agree with most points), specific examples - especially of people citing those specific individual reasons - would improve this answer a lot. – user4012 Nov 18 '17 at 15:31
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    @user4012: I'll give one citation: I've personally thought most of those things at different times. Most of it. however, comes from personal conversations, especially back in the '70s and '80s when (what at least claimed to be) communism was still widely practiced, so I can't give traceable citations. – Jerry Coffin Nov 18 '17 at 17:40
  • Good point: while Marx himself viewed his work as scientific, and it is still used as such, Marxists treat it like a religion, like bible or quran. Science, especiallc "soft" social and economic science, can be erratic, so that findings have to be corrected or entirely abandoned. Marxists, especially communists, refuse to do so. Or they use it as a justification for violence and power abuse, much like ISIS. In fact, Marxism appears to be a secular cult, the biggest in history. – Erik Hart Nov 26 '17 at 13:28

I think the reality is much simpler: Fascism posed a geopolitical risk to the hegemony of western robber baron and corporate capitalism. It walked through Europe with its mechanization and forced the bourgeoisie of every country to get in bed with it and submit to the nation's need, or die. In doing so, they could become more powerful. It never meaningfully challenged the power structure, it just perverted it. Every corporation serves an interest in the nation state.

US Corporations actually sold the Nazis the rope to hang them with; Ford and IBM being the infamous examples.

The Capitalists having already overlooked the human atrocities mobilized in self-defense, and beat back the fascists. There would be no service to the nation-state. Individualistic profit-seeking would reign supreme.

With the threat from fascism understood, Chomsky picks up. Fascism as faced by the Allies was an external threat. Emergent communism would be an internal threat. Both were ideological threats that sought to resolve social injustice inherent in emergent capitalism.

To be clear, I'm against genocide and fascist brutality as a method of resolving the social problems of capitalism. It only works temporarily. But both of these are united as potential "solutions" and can be perceived jointly by those in power as "threats."

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    Solid arguement. I think you should speak a bit about how emergent capitalism convinced the average american to buy its line. – axsvl77 Nov 20 '17 at 14:20
  • @axsvl77 it didn't. I'm totally unconvinced of that argument though I grant you that it's accepted by many others as true. Americans hate Capitalism. That's why on top of propagandizing the alternatives, it has to reinvent itself senselessly and without any merit as "Free Markets," "Trickle down economics" and the like. Every attempt to bring market forces is fought (privatization and austerity). It's simply unpopular everywhere. Moreover, the question is never put to the people and resolved, instead it injects itself through a slow process of means testing and erosion of the commons. – Evan Carroll Nov 20 '17 at 22:02

Because America was colonised predominantly by Protestants (or people of a Protestant disposition) and the Protestant work ethic equates moral excellence with wealth and hard work. So poverty is not something to be pitied or alleviated, but condemned as sin and the notion that poverty is a result of inequality or greed and needs to be addressed by the state is not something that sits well with the Protestant work ethic.

Furthermore, when America was colonised there was nothing there to support a civilised way of life, and every bit of infrastructure apart from grazed land had to be built by the settlers themselves. This process has not quite finished and there abides a strong memory and tradition of self-sufficiency in America, which also sits uncomfortably with communism. Now factor in the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War with the communist Soviet Union and there you have it.

Communism can be separated from the murderous dictators. Stalin killed 50 million, but he was a dictator, not a true communism. The argument "Communism was a good idea in theory, bad idea in practice" isn't something that's said about Fascism. Fascism is not distinct from Hitler. They're viewed hand in hand, while communism, for all its failures, can be viewed as separate from the dictators.

The swastika and the nazi salute or heil, produce a visibly negative reaction among many, on the level of the worst racial slurs. "That's much too wrong and shouldn't be displayed", even in the land of free speech, carries some weight. If enough people are offended, the display is in danger and that's not just about politics. Put a picture of two gay men kissing on a public display in the 1950s and tell me how long it is until the demands to take it down hit your doorstep.

Limits on free speech is a touchy subject, especially in the US, but some measure of blocking hate speech is often considered, either by law, or by protest and the desire to avoid protests. Simply displaying a swastika in public can be treated as a form of hate speech.

Some people feel that way about the confederate flag and confederate statues, which I mention as a sidebar and another example that sometimes there's an organized effort to make "displaying that isn't OK". The Swastika tops the list I think, or maybe the N-word in the court of public opinion on "that's not OK". The Hammer and Sickle or a photo of Karl Marx (or even a photo of Lenin), individual feelings fall along the range, but the organized objection isn't very strong against communist symbols.

That's not to say that only the left objects. There was a time when even thinking like a communist had to be hidden and people could lose their jobs for attending a meeting 20 years earlier. It could be argued that the organized movement and objection to communism was so successful that almost nobody is a communist today.

But back to the question, the bottom line, for better or worse, is that the Hammer and Sickle or a photo of Karl Marx aren't associated with hate and there's no organized effort to ban their public display - not that people would cheer a statue of Karl Marx in a public park, but there's less of a reaction and less of an organized movement against it.

And in case anyone thinks the right has gone soft and forgiving, I'd like to remind people how successfully they've vilified liberalism. People pick their battles. Civil rights organizations object to display of the swastika in any way, shape or form. Conservative organizations are fighting different battles, cause they don't have much to gain from trying to ban the hammer and sickle. True communist organizations are pretty darn weak right now.

A 2nd point, related to the first is that the swastika can be used as a rallying cry. I've never seen anyone use the Hammer and Sickle as a "get behind communism" rallying cry the way the Swastika and organized fascist organizations use their symbolism, so the greater strength of fascist organizations and I don't know about greater numbers, but certainly louder voice. I don't remember the last time a true communist organization had a major march and one reason for that is that most on the far left have abandoned communism. A small but vocal number on the far right still embrace aspects of fascism.

But, mostly, it comes down to which things are viewed as hate speech (or hate display) and which things are seen as wrong, but not the same level of offensive. One could argue that there's no logic behind what earns the call to get banned and what doesn't, or why Hitler, not Stalin is the poster-boy of 20th century evil, but that's the bottom line (and yes, Stalin was our ally before he was our enemy . . . point still stands). It's perception.

Marx's communism is viewed as about as dangerous as a kitten these days. Very few people see it as a true threat, so, display those hammers and sickles. The worst you'll get is a few dirty looks and a photo of Karl Marx - hek, that's a conversation starter. Want proof? The KGBbar (formerly KGBclub) has existed in NYC for decades. A Fascist themed bar would never get a license, much less remain open, though I imagine there might be a few as private residences. Threats are responded to. That's humanity 101. Communism is mostly not perceived as a threat anymore.

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    Actually, no, Stalin wasn't our ally before he was our enemy. He was first our enemy, then temporarily an ally (but one clearly viewed with mistrust, even at best) and finally overtly an enemy again. – Jerry Coffin Nov 18 '17 at 9:20
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    This answer may be on topic since the question was about the US. I would like to note, however, that in many states across Europe (especially Eastern Europe) communist symbols ARE prohibited. And pro-USSR restoration groups especially in Russia do use these symbols publicly to further their agenda. On the same note, since swastika is an ancient symbol used in many cultures, you can see it aplenty in public in India where there is no connection made between it and Nazism on street level. – Gnudiff Nov 18 '17 at 15:30
  • @Gnudiff Thank you for that. Being an American and somewhat insulated from world news (yes, I'm to blame for that), I had no idea about communist symbols being prohibited. I'll have to read up on that cause I find that interesting. I knew that about the Swastika being around, but not in India. The Navajo too, My dad got a framed Navajo rug because it had that infamous symbol and people from his office complained. I might delete my answer - 0 votes, when answers with wrong stuff in them have over 70, maybe mine was too obvious. I don't know. – userLTK Nov 20 '17 at 13:14

I think it is unusual to not have totalitarian communism (not to be equated with moderate forms of socialism) viewed as an evil.

It's particularly in Europe, where many leading intellectuals harbor sympathy to far-left, even violent and oppressive, political views, or assume that even mass murderous systems, like those of Stalin and Mao, came from "good" intentions.

Communism as tyranny

Communism is not only about redistribution of property, which can also be done by a moderate socialist, or any other, system. Marx expected, with a scientific conviction, that workers, as the ones in charge of technology, would use their knowledge to take over the power. This expectation promises a total grab of power and invites people who are bullies and want to become tyrants. Later Marxism, and, still later, Leninism, sought development of communism through a "dictatorship of the proletariat". Leninism boiled down to a central committee of the communist party defining "absolute truths", which everybody had to believe and follow, very similar to the "infallible" pope in the Catholic Church. Marxism-Leninism became the basis for almost all communist regimes of the 20th century, and various guerillas and terrorist groups.

Communists want absolute power and enforce it with unrestricted violence. They fundamentally reject pluralism, liberalism, elections, parliaments, checks and balances. Although they may use such, when they serve their purpose. This is what almost inevitably leads to tyrannies like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, or North Korea, which is probably a stalinist regime with full, still ongoing brutality. Due to their nature, today's communists rarely worship these historical characters as idols, but instead, want to become the next Stalins and Pol Pots, or at least Brezhnevs.

Today, many people wrongly associate communism with vague leftist or even liberal goals, such as equality, non-discrimination and elimination of racism. Communists often hijack such movements to use them for their purpose, and hide their much less noble intentions behind them. However, communism itself has no such inequalities as mandatory parts of it's ideology.

"Antifascism"/Antifa:

Another "justification" for communism comes from the rivalry between communists and various "fascist" movements, and post-WW2 Germany: In the 1920s and 30s, communists and fascists were basically rival gangs, fighting in the streets of Europe, overthrowing the civil governments in some places. After WW2, Nazism was a persisting folk devil, and especially in Germany, a semi-religious dogmatism was established, that Nazism was uniquely evil and must not be compared to any other tyranny, belligerent or murderous political system. Communist propaganda attacked then West Germany as the continuation of the 3rd Reich, presenting communism as the only remedy against a recurring fascism. Hiding behind Nazism became a long term strategy of western communists.

Especially when the communist bloc crumbled around 1990, communists, mainly in Germany, but also in former allied countries, used "antifascism" as their lifeboat. Small, but noisy neo-Nazi groups, the violent Skinhead subculture and a number of racist and xenophobic incidents and hate crimes led to formation of the black clad underground militias, known under the short term "Antifa", and a wide tolerance and support for their violent and oppressive behavior against the general public. This violence immediately targeted victims who had little in common with skinhead or neo-nazi thugs, and strongly utilized purely criminal motivation.

Historical nazism and present time hate incidents were used to give them a free ticket, and the totalitarian communists, who had become unpopular even among leftist groups, could come up and disguise their goals and methods as "antifascism". Much of the leftist political establishment, and especially media, supported this.

All this made few footprints in the USA, until 2016, when the election of Trump created fear of a fascist regime there, when internet trolls, using Nazi imagery and language, became a nuisance, and when fascist individuals like Richard Spencer were much overrated in media coverage. Now it seems like some of the leftist establishment in the US want to install Antifa as an underground political militia and thought police, as it has been in Europe for decades. With the events at Charlottesville, it seems like a final dam broke, where many agreed that the far-right must be countered with violence, and that traditional US freedom values are up to debate, when it comes to the "fight against the right".

I have no idea how influential fascist or even neo-Nazi ideas really are in the US, but I wonder why something, that was originally mainly using German nationalism, can spread to former enemy countries and become a kind of international blueprint for ideological patterns. However, when Antifa is established in the US, as it is largely in Europe, it will be the massive return of violent, totalitarian communism, roughly 70 years after the last "red scare". While not everybody supporting an Antifa group is a commie thug, this is the core of it, exploiting an alleged, or even real, fascist threat for it's purpose.

Just compare the wealth of the "leaders" (read: dictators) of communist countries with the utter destitution of most people who live there.

Cuba

The late Fidel Castro had luxury homes and a private island.

Meanwhile, the cuban population was so badly off that lots of people whatever they could to escape. Some even died trying.

Venezuela

There are poorly sourced reports that Hugo Chavez' daughter has $4 billion. Even if that isn't true, she is clearly very well off. Meanwhile, ordinary people are starving and suffering from an epidemic of murders.

Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe is reportedly a billionaire. Ordinary people are starving.

North Korea . Kim Jong Un has a palace, a private jet, and a yacht. There are also persistent reports that the various Kims have kept a private harem of young girls.

Meanwhile, ordinary people . . . where to begin? There was a famine, there are concentration camps, a defector was recently found to have immunity to Anthrax, the nuclear weapons program is causing radiation sickness

In the 1950's USA was a Socialist state. But then USA & UK got caught in the 'Capitalist revolution' trap of "us vs them". US & UK adopted new policies pioneered by the schizophrenic, John Nash. US and UK gave up their system of "good will & welfare" in exchange for a system of "profit & distrust".

There are three types of Freedom: Individual, State, Corporate

  1. Anarchy: Individual has the most freedom
  2. Facism/Dictatorship: State has the most freedom
  3. Corporatocracy: Corporations has the most freedom

. -

  1. Corporate Statism: Individuals have the least freedom
  2. Alliance/Confederacy: State has the least freedom
  3. Communism & Socialism: Corporations have the least freedom
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    -1 for a bunch of incorrectness (for one thing, Chinese socialism gives plenty of freedom to corporations. Mind you, they are owned by PLA, but they are still corporations; and depending on one's angle arguably have more freedom than US corporations. No pesky ethics, labor, environmental etc... laws and regulations to trouble them) – user4012 Dec 3 '17 at 19:15
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    Also, [cittaion needed] for any connection of US/UK policies to Nash (he did admittely share Hayek's views if that's what you were trying to imply, but those views originated with Austrian school of economis, not Nash by any stretch of imagination). – user4012 Dec 3 '17 at 19:19
  • Citation already given for "Capitalist revolution trap of us vs them" pioneered by John Nash: BBC 2007 Documentary, "The Trap" – Neel Dec 8 '17 at 4:51
  • For examples, * USA - Corporatocracy * USSR - Communism * North Korea - Corporate Statism --- China is currently transitioning from Communism to Corporate Statism, therefore, neither here, nor there. – Neel Dec 8 '17 at 5:00
  • when I search for quoted phrase on Google, the only hit, literally, was this Q&A. – user4012 Dec 8 '17 at 14:40

The base of socialism is higher tax and more control over the economy in order to "help the poor". If one amplifies this to total [everything is taken away by tax, every economical decision is controlled], then one gets exactly in a situation that is equivalent with communism.

So "communism" is just the extreme of socialism. To be general, i will speak about socialism mostly, but it applies to communism too.

Socialism, as any other social order : has a basic categorization : voluntary or enforced. By the word "socialism" most people mean the one enforced by state, which is of course violent, as laws of the state are mandatory, and enforced by violence. Such socialism is really bad, even if not by intention, but at least by results.

In the enforced socialism : the state [hence, and more precisely the rulers] gain power to take away the private property of the people and control economical activity. This has 2 notable results :

  • The rulers can decide who will get rich and who will get broke. This is enormous political power. The big power tempts any ruler : even if it intended to do good with socialism, the power corrupts it very soon and it becomes a tyrant.

  • It hurts the economy.

    • People are less motivated to produce if more of their product is taken away from them.
    • Control disrupts the market mechanism. A healthy market is one that does not produce externality and there is enough competition to prevent economical exploitation. Most markets, absence of state regulation, work in such a healthy state. The prices established by these competitive markets make demand and supply to equal, by this they organize the economy into maximal efficiency. As state regulation changes the state of the markets, distort prices : they move the economy into an other, hence a less efficient state.

In short time : exploitation of the economy and distribution of the stolen assets to the poor is popular. This also strengthens the political power of the socialist ruler. But in the long time : the effect on the economy is felt by the people, who then start to want political change. In this stage the ruler, who has by now established a tyranny : has 2 choices :

  • Use the tyranny to oppress the people.
  • Exploit the economy in a faster way, distribute to poor more heavily to temporarily hide the economic problem. This only postpones and deepens the problem.

What makes socialism especially dangerous idea is that it gives high power to the ruler, hence is prone to tyranny. I said "prone". Socialism does not necessarily leads to tyranny. In fact : most democratic countries today are socialist for decades. If socialism is applied in a sufficiently small dose then the negative consequences are small too and the country can survive it, even prosper.

Socialism and hitlerism are the same in their core principle, which is : "I have an idea about how people should live. It is so good that we should gain power and attack people to force them to live that way."

It is very important to see where the problem is. It is not in the social ideology itself.

  • Many people have nationalistic feelings, and they are still harmless, even good, positive people.
  • There are a few small voluntary communist communities, which do not force others to live such way.
  • Most people have some idea about how they and other people should live. That alone is not dangerous.

The problem is the idea that people should be violently attacked to enforce an idea.

Violence itself may be even a good thing. For example it is good to kill a person who is committing mass shooting. Not only because it saves more lives than it takes, but because it saves innocent life and takes guilty life. Even it is good to shoot a group of criminals who are killing a single innocent person. What is then really bad about violence? It is the initiation of it ["attack", "aggression"].

More precisely we should condemn not only initiation of violence, but more generally : initiation of harm. Harm also contains theft.

Economic freedom [voluntary exchange of goods and services] does not need violence at all, but restricting economic freedom does. Defending property right does need violence, but robbery needs more. Theft is initiation of harm, while using force against theft is violence and therefore harm too, but not initiation of harm.

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    You've done a great job of illustrating how communism is erroneously conflated with socialism. Not exactly the point of the question, unless you were going with irony. – Twelfth Nov 15 '17 at 21:39
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    "help the poor" - it's to help the people regardless of wealth, middle class still use the social structures. But you are badly mixing the two topics up, communism is political while socialism is economical and you seem to have this driving point to say that socialism cannot be achieved without a dictator which is completely false. Democratic socialism already exists proving your answer to be complete paranoia and a perfect example of the 'communism is evil, flee while you can' mantra. Hence my +1 for ironic answer award – Twelfth Nov 15 '17 at 22:35
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    @Andy - Can one have a capitalist economy without the use of force? ;) Private property rights don’t enforce themselves, you know. – Obie 2.0 Nov 15 '17 at 23:31
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    @Andy - movement in the US seems to be growing in popularity without force. thenation.com/article/… Scandinavian nations being classified as such, and the socialist related death count in Norway is low. dissentmagazine.org/article/… Social dems in Germany are doing decent. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Democratic_Party_of_Germany socialism and communism are not the same, democratic socialism is alive and distant from communism – Twelfth Nov 15 '17 at 23:36
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    @Andy The Internet is not in America. There is no "they". The European socialists are already here, in the comments with you. Hello! – owjburnham Nov 16 '17 at 20:43

protected by Philipp Nov 15 '17 at 21:22

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